It will soon be upon us, and we will not be allowed to forget, how a man and his donk took on the might of the Ottomans and single handedly stormed the Dardanelles.
But don’t mention the Cypriots (they were muleteers at Gallipoli), the French, Indians, the Newfoundlanders, New Zealanders, (they had a man with a donkey too) the Scots, the Welsh, people from all over the Empire were there, plus the odd Turk.
Here in Folkestone there has been no mention of our local soldiers at Gallipoli. It is as no one realises the Gurkhas were there too.
The campaign itself was one of Winston Churchill’s follies. The mistaken belief that if you knocked out the “props” or eastern allies of the Germans the war would be ended quicker. It was never going to succeed. The Germans were the enemy, beating them was the only thing that really mattered. However, the decision was made. In March 1915 an Anglo-French Naval attempt was made to force the Dardanelles. It failed, Four battleships were sunk. It was decided that the militaries of Britain and France would now try. On the 25th April 1915 an Allied expeditionary force landed at various places. The British either side of Cape Helles the ANZACs at Ari Burna. Very little headway was made and the campaign soon settled into one of mainly attrition.
The Indian 29th Brigade of which the Gurkhas were part arrived at Helles on the 1st May 1915, At first only one Gurkha battalion. Almost immediately the brigades two Punjabi battalions were rotated out and replaced by another two Gurkha battalions and a fourth Gurkha battalion arrived during September 1915.
On the 12 May the Gurkhas were ordered to attack a strong point on the bluff over looking the Indian Brigades trenches. With fire support from a Sikh battalion as well as gun support from two warships A company of the Gurkhas scaled the cliffs and dug in. A machine gun section and two other companies of Gurkhas further extended the position. Eighteen Gurkhas were killed to secure the position now known as Gurkha Bluff. The British line had been extended and the beach head of the Indian Brigade a little more secure.
Ian Hamilton decided to go on the offensive on the Helles Front starting on the 4th june 1915. One Gurkha battalion was to be involved with another in reserve. The Gurkhas advanced forward from Gurkha Bluff to try and capture a Turkish trench. They did reach their objective but were forced back. The other Gurkha Battalion were ordered to advance in the afternoon of the 4th. More or less along the same route the other Gurkhas had taken in the morning. predictably the results were much the same. Over forty Gurkha riflemen were killed at Helles on the 4th June 1915. none have a known grave.
As part of another doomed attempt at an offensive the Gurkhas took part in the attack on the Turkish defences on Gully Spur on the 29th June. The attack up the Spur was a success, but the attack to secure the Ravine was not. The Gurkhas in the spur were now in a very exposed position. The fighting in the area was also predictably confused with ground being lost to the Turks and then retaken, After a few days the ground was made secure and at the end of the first week in July the Turks made one last attempt to retake the Spur before leaving it to the Gurkhas. The Indian Brigade had earned its rest on Imbros and was withdrawn to the island.
On the 5th August they were back, or the survivors plus the replacement drafts were. This time to ANZAC Cove. The Indian brigade landed in darkness and were hidden in caves and dug outs ready for an attack on Sari Bair to be made, after dark, on the following day. Few officers had ever made a night march, few officers could speak Nepalese, few Gurkhas could speak English. Few could say the British Empire did not know how to screw up an attack. Battalions and some of their companies were on their own. A battalion (the 1/5th) minus a company continued forward its objective before mounting casualties forced it to dig in.
Another lost sight of its objective and veered off to their right. They did however find the New Zealand Brigade and link up with them for an attack on Chunuk Bair.
A third Gurkha battalion made its way to Hill Q the Gurkha’s objective and halted, again due to casualties below the crest. They were ordered to storm the crest at dawn on the 8th August. The first attempt failed to reach the crest, the resumption of the assault just after dark succeeded. Due to increased casualties and a lack of support, the Gurkhas had to withdraw. at least a platoon of men led by lt William Slim(see footnote) had managed to attach it self to the Gurkhas but there were not enough of them to make a difference.
The Gurkhas took part in another offensive on the 21st August as part of a mixed grouping of under strenght British Indian Australian New Zealand, and Gurkha battalions in an attack on Hill 60. They managed to take their objective at Susak Kuyu after which the Gurkha battalions consolidated and dug in. On the 27th August the Gurkhas provided fire support for another attack on Hill 60.
From then until the evacuation the Gurkhas spent their time in the normal routine of trench warfare. They were hard hit by the blizzard in October 1915 as were all soldiers including the Turks many hundreds of cases of Frostbite were recorded.
The Gurkhas were evacuated from Sulva between the 14th and 19th inclusive December 1915
William Slim is better known as “Bill” Slim, commander of the Fourteenth army in Burma during WW2
For more information on the Gallipoli campaign
Gallipoli, by Peter Hart, ISBN 978 1 84668 159 2
For more Information about the Gurkhas
The Gurkha Museum at Shorncliffe, and Winchester are great places to visit.